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Children and young people and the law

Anyone who cares for a child or young person is responsible for making sure they are safe, healthy and well looked after.

The law states that:

• The child’s welfare comes first
• All children have a right to be protected from abuse, neglect and exploitation
• Parents should normally be responsible for bringing up their children.

Punishing children

It is against the law to punish children or young people in a way that:

  • Is too harsh
  • Involves too much force
  • Harms them.

You should not punish your child in ways that involve hitting them, or beating them. It is against the law to punish children in a dangerous way such as:

  • Shaking
  • Hitting on the head
  • Using a belt, cane, slipper, wooden spoon or other implement.

You can read more about encouraging better behaviour at the NSPCC website or the Parents Stay Positive website.

Leaving children alone

There is no legal age limit for leaving a child on their own but it is a crime to leave a child alone if it puts them at risk. You can be prosecuted if a child in your care is harmed or has been neglected because you left them alone. Neglect is where a parent or carer fails to meet a child’s basic needs for food, shelter, security, attention or protection.

The most important factor to consider is how mature is the child. For example, it may be okay to leave a mature 12 year old alone, but not a 13 year old who isn’t very grown up. If the child isn’t ready then being left alone can be a sad, lonely, frightening and dangerous experience for them. Even ordinary things like a thunder storm can be frightening.

The advice from the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) is that:

• Babies, toddlers and very young children should never be left alone
• Children under the age of about 12 are rarely mature enough to be left alone for a long period of time
• Children under the age of 16 should not be left alone overnight.

Things to remember

It is important to make sure that your child is happy to be left alone. If they aren’t confident about being left alone then find someone to look after them.

If you do leave your child home alone, remember to:

  • Leave a contact phone number and make sure you can answer it right away
  • Leave a separate contact list of people you trust, in case you can’t be reached
  • Talk to your child before you leave about how to stay safe, and tell them not to answer the door to strangers
  • Leave clear instructions on what to do in case of an emergency (like a fire)
  • Tell them what time you will be back, and don’t be late
  • Set some basic rules about what they can and can’t do while you are out.

If you are leaving your child with someone else make sure that they are a responsible adult that you trust.

Choosing a babysitter

When choosing a babysitter, remember to:

  • Follow your instincts - if in doubt don't use them
  • Ask for at least two references and contact the referees yourself
  • Choose a babysitter who is over 16 years old – if something does go wrong and your babysitter is under 16 you will be held responsible
  • Listen to your child about any issues with babysitting that they are unhappy about
  • If your child is unhappy with the babysitter, find someone else
  • Only use registered child minders. The Council keeps a list of registered child minders.
  • If you have any worries about your babysitter you can check them out using Strathclyde Police’s Keeping Children Safe Scheme.

Saturday and part time jobs


  • Children under the age of 13 are not allowed to work at all.
  • Children between 13 and 16 are not allowed to work before 7am or after 7pm
  • Children between 13 and 16 are not allowed to work more than 2 hours a day on any day, except Saturdays
  • Children are allowed to work for up to 5 hours on a Saturday if they are over 13 but under 15
  • Children are allowed to work for 8 hours on a Saturday if they are 15 or over.

Children cannot work during school hours and can only work for 1 hour before school begins. Children are not allowed to work in industrial places, such as factories and building sites, or in any work that is likely to harm their health, wellbeing or education.

Sex and young people

  • The age of consent is how old a person has to be to legally decide to have sex
  • The age of consent boys and girls is 16
  • It’s against the law to have sex with someone who is under 16
  • It’s against the law for two people who are under 16 to have sex with each other
  • If two young people, one under 16 and one under 13, have sex, then it’s the older one who has committed an offence
  • Anyone who has sex with a child under the age of 13 years old can be sent to prison for life
  • Any person who tries to have sex, or has sex with someone over 13 but under 16 can be sent to prison for up to 10 years.

Young people have a natural interest in sex. However, adults have a responsibility to identify any relationships which may involve abuse or exploitation.

If you feel that your child needs additional information or advice, they can contact The Sandyford Institute. The Sandyford Institute runs sexual health services just for young people. Appointments are set aside for young people so you’re not likely to meet any adults you might be worried about seeing.

The services are called The Place. The Place offers treatment, counselling, support and advice on every area of sexual health and relationships. For more information about The Place visit http://www.sandyford.org/the-place.aspx


Private Fostering

Private fostering is where a parent is making an arrangement to have their child cared for by someone who is not an approved foster carer or kinship carer or guardian of the child and who is not a close relative of the child (i.e. not a grandparent, brother, sister, uncle or aunt) whether by blood or affinity (i.e. by marriage) for more than 28days.

Although the arrangement is private, local authority children's services have a duty to secure and monitor the welfare of any child in a private fostering arrangement.

The law states that parents making a private fostering arrangement and those caring for a child in a private fostering arrangement must notify the relevant local authority (the one in which the child is to be placed) at least two weeks before the start of the placement or if an emergency placement has already begun within 7days.

For further information please see www.scotland.gov.uk/privatefostering

Who to Call

If you are unhappy or worried about something speak to your teacher or an adult that you trust.

  • ChildLine0800 1111
  • Police Scotland101
  • Social Work0300 300 1199
  • Social Work (Out Of Hours)0300 343 1505
  • NSPCC Helpline0800 800 5000